Come on Pakistan! Culture isn’t a static thing

By Raja Arsalan Khan

Pakistani intelligentsia cannot challenge the Taliban through a comprehensive narrative because of the confusion it is suffering from.

We are unique; we are supreme; we are here to tell people how to live; we are destined to change the whole world; only the Muslims have contributed to the human progress; everything should must Islamized; everyone except Muslims are our enemies.

It is the executive summary of education imparted to our students while we seek an answer to the question: how to root out militancy from society.

And unfortunately, media (now a 24/7 business) is complicating the problem by constantly bashing the West and reminding people about so-called negative influence of non-Muslim world and unending conspiracies designed by Jews, Hindus and Christians to consume us.

Even a cursory look at the extremism generated by Political Islam reveals the fact that it decries adulterated social values and seeks power to use power to capture power for a final battle with the rest of humanity.

It considers cultural as something static and thus rejects all the progress humans have made so far. It calls for resisting change and negates very concept of freedom of thought, leading to taking shelter in tribal and feudal norms by describing them as God ordained.

No doubt, that our education system is a prime manifestation and promoter of Political Islam. Militancy that has crippled Pakistan is a direct and natural product of a learning which teaches hate and promotes narcissism.

And here is the answer to deal with the militant minds. Teach youth in particular and others in general a basic fact: culture is not stagnant. It depends on means of production and social relations it produce.

And also tell them only that culture flourishes and survives which is compatible with the given time and space and the latest means of production and relations of production. And not every culture has turned into a civilization.

But we have in Pakistan is a self-destructive exercise. The overall impact of formal and informal education forces an individual to reject everything modern which has shaped the globalized world of 21st century based upon the sociopolitical changes triggered by the Industrial Revolution way back in 17th century.

Hence, our efforts are focused to make the world compatible with the medieval tribal / feudal mindset disguised as true Islam instead of adapting ourselves according to the present times.

How did we reach this stage? To spread their message, the Islamists penetrated education system and media. Slowly but surely they monopolized the narrative with the support of state.

With the passage of time, they have been able even to hijack the state itself because their penetration at the societal level made any resistance impossible.

So Pakistan needs a counter narrative that is comprehensive and powerful enough to challenge the multi-pronged strategy adopted by the stakeholders in jihad business.

But it will never come – at least the factual position shows so. But miracles can happen. So please wait for it.

The reason is simple. Our intelligentsia has never been able to figure out that the multiple cultures in Pakistan are not compatible with the new realities. Our norms and traditions cannot absorb modernity just like any other feudal / tribal society. We cannot be an exception.

From 1947, everyone, liberal or progressive, has missed the point that the people, the society need modernisation. They need social mobility so that they are part of the mainstream. They need to told that changing their mindset is must if they want to progress.

However, what we are doing in Pakistan quite opposite, as they told that the adhering to our culture is the way forward to fight the imperialist designs of exploitative West. The message is they will lose everything if they lose their cultural identity, although the intelligentsia does not desire the same for their children.

And now we are told that our culture is the main weapon to fight religious extremism. But what these extremists like Taliban want? They also tell us that they are fighting to keep cultural identity by resisting modernisation (Westernisation). So what is the difference? Enemy is the same. No?

Simple question is: How can a culture be our friend when it is repressive and against human freedom? The ideal of Liberty Equality Fraternity should be for all and not the chosen ones.

Don’t you think Pakistan should have made progress towards an enlightened society from the very beginning not withstanding the rise of religious extremism? Can we achieve the objective without targeting the repressive social structures sanctioned by our native culture(s)?

Don’t you think indigenous cultures in Pakistan breed militant minds even without use of religion? How can they prove an antidote to religious extremism?

And what is the use of going into debate to differentiate Westernization and modernization? It only creates confusion – a dangerous option when both state and the intelligentsia in a semi-tribal/feudal Pakistan have forgotten the concept of social mobility, which is equivalent to refusing a basic right and an urgent need of the overwhelming majority.

As the modern world is shaped by the West thanks to its ideological and physical contribution, all changes are to be shaped according to the Western model. Who else can be our inspiration! There is no escaping to this fact. Remember! Culture isn’t static.

Coming back to the Pakistani state – which has relinquished its basic responsibilities by outsourcing them to various actors and business interests – it can prove its seriousness towards eradicating militancy by changing the narrative, which is surely a mission impossible.

As a first step, it should include European History in syllabus to make students realize the today’s realities and identify with the concepts like democracy, state and individual freedom.

Is there any other option? Children from upper middle and middle class study it in O and A levels. Why not the ordinary citizens enjoy the same dispensation? There is no other way to achieve the objective.  Otherwise, people will remain susceptible to hate and jihad propagators.

This article was originally posted here.

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